I’m only back in the tower for another day when Max comes by to see me with some good news. A team out in D.C. was able to call in a few favors and figure out where Bella and Alexander are more than likely hanging out.
“It’s a beach house down in seaside heights in Jersey,” Max informs me before looking down and poking lightly at the bandages wrapped around my arms. “Hey, what happened here, anyway?”
I jerk my arms away a little more suddenly than necessary. He’s just reminded me about that night all over again. I manage to forget everyone once in a while but there’s always something that comes up that makes me remember. I’ll always remember, too, because they’re going to scar, and pretty badly at that.
“Doesn’t matter,” I say hastily before sitting up quickly where I’m still seated in bed. “When are you guys moving in to get her?”
“Well, as soon as possible, actually, and I already know what you’re gonna ask, Lake, and—” he begins, but I cut him off just like he expected me to.
“You gotta let me go, Max,” I practically demand, but rein it in enough to keep it respectful enough for him to actually consider my plea. “She’s practically his kid, man.”
“Yeah? And what about you? You practically his boyfriend or something?” he replies, but he says it with enough of a playful tilt to his words that I know he’s only being partially serious.
“C’mon, Max,” I complain. “It’s...not like that. But I’ll admit that it’s a personal matter.” I may still be opposed to telling him the whole truth, but calling it a “personal matter” is a step closer to it.
Max studies my face for a second. He sighs after a long pause where neither of us speaks and I barely take a single breath.
“Alright,” he says, giving in. “You can go. But you’re out of the line of fire. You’ll wait for the others to take the heavy hits and take care of any goons that may crop up. You’re responsible for the kid only, got it?”
“Got it,” I agree instantly.
“You’re gonna take it really easy, too, okay?”
“Yes, Max, yes. Definitely. When are we leaving?”
He sighs and shakes his head again.
“As soon as we can. C’mon. The rest of the team is already suiting up.”
Max leaves for mission headquarters while I take my time dragging myself to my feet. My entire body aches as I go. The bandages over the bullet wounds still have to have be changed twice a day and the ones on my arms only daily. They gunshot wounds still bleed on occasion but the average normal person really wouldn’t be up and moving at the rate I am already. I’m glad that Max told me to take it easy because I honestly don’t think I’d be able to keep up on my own.
I take the elevator up to missions HQ, change into my suit at a slower rate than the highest sloth on earth would, and meet up with the rest of the team on the flight deck of the tower. Only Max, JD, Cecelia, Flint, and I are going out on this particular mission. They’re all excited to see me up and about which I can understand. I’ve been a sad mope of a person for the last day or so. Nightmares have been destroying any attempt at sleep I try to make. All I want to do when I’m awake is lay in bed watching old nineties cartoons or just go back to sleep. Anybody who has tried to get me involved with the rest of the team has been met with my back when I turned over so I didn’t have to face them. I’m still not entirely sure what exactly I’m afraid of, but I’ve never really had a great reaction to being injured.
JD and Flint slip into the pilot seats at the front of our team’s jet. Tony would normally be here to fly but he’s taken a personal day for something important so we’re making do. The plane is always masked by cloaking technology made by HoloTech. League teams are only authorized to uncloak their jet when the world’s safety is at stake. The League is, after all, supposed to be a government organization that operates more in the shadows than anything else. The more public altercations like the one that just happened with James are far and few between when all of the undercover and private missions are taken into account.
The flight is really short considering we only have to go as far as northern New Jersey. The beach is actually quite a nice change of scenery. Maybe I can find some time to stay here for a bit once all of this is said and done.
We land on an open area of the beach and move in on the motel that the intel we were given says Alexander and Bella are more than likely holed up in. Cecelia scans the entire building for heat signatures once we’re on the outskirts of the parking lot. The room the pair are supposedly in, 205, apparently has three. There’s a suspicious number in the rooms on each side of 205 which Max reckons are more than likely Alexander’s backup.
I follow closely behind Max and JD to 205 while Cecelia and Flint separate for the other two rooms. Max kicks the door in with ease and shouting immediately erupts along with gunfire. It sounds so much like the night I got shot that I freeze for a moment. It takes me a second to remember exactly where I am.
I follow JD to the back of the room while Max subdues the man who must have been charged with standing guard for Alexander.. The door to the bathroom is shut and JD shoves me forward so he can standing look out while I go inside.
The bathroom is seemingly empty upon first glance. The bathtub curtain is shut, however, so I move cautiously until I’m right in front of it. I gently draw the plain white curtain back to reveal a little girl that can’t be much older than two years old huddled up in the bottom of the tub. She’s crying and stares up at me like I’m the most terrifying thing in the world. I crouch down to her level and gingerly hold out a hand.
“Hey, Bella,” I say softly. “I’m a good friend of your big brother. Rowan? He sent me to come get you. He really wants to see you.” I keep my hand out where it is and let her take her time despite the crashes and gunshots coming from just beyond the bathroom door.
When she finally he musters up enough courage to actually look up at me, her lips are wobbling and her big brown eyes are welling up.
“Lake?” she quivers out in a small, hushed voice.
“Yeah,” I say as a small smile pops onto my lips. “You wanna get outta here?”
She considers this, too.
“Yeah,” she says finally.
“Okay, then,” I say before nodding and offering my hand a little more seriously.
She holds out both arms and makes grabby hands. I scoops her right up into my arms and balance her easily on my hip. I nod at JD at the door once I open it. The noises from inside the room have ceased so Alexander and his buddy must have been taken in already. Surely there’s no way Rivera can give us the slip more than once.
I push the thought of the man’s possible escape to the back of mind and instead focus on getting Bella back to the tower safely. JD and I go straight to the jet as directed by Max and wait for the others. Cecelia and Flint arrive first. JD and Flint quickly ready the jet for takeoff while we wait for Max.
Our team captain hunkers up the ramp of the cloaked jet about ten minutes after those of us who aren’t piloting are all buckled up for the flight. Bella fussed every time I try to put her in her own seat so she’s buckled safely onto my lap.
Max is lugging an unconscious Alexander Rivera on the ground behind him. My heart leaps into my throat and I look down to cover Bella’s eyes but she’s already asleep, slumped against my chest. Max nods in my direction and lays Rivera on the ground near the cockpit of the jet as the ramp closes and we take flight.
“Taken care of, finally,” he says before throwing himself into one of the seats lining the walls of the jet. “Already called local PD. They’ve got a car en route to the tower for the hand off. He’ll be out of our hands and not our responsibility in no time.”
“It’s about time,” I reply with a long sigh. I tip my head back against the cab of the jet and momentarily close my eyes. Maybe now I’ll be able to get more than an hour of uninterrupted sleep.
The flight back to the tower is short. Max drags Rivera off the jet as JD and Flint do some post-flight checks. Cecelia accompanies me to the floor where Rowan is still being held. Wendy transferred him back to one of the interrogation rooms while our group was gone so I don’t even have to wait.
Bella stirs in my arms and wakes while the elevator takes us down to the second floor. She sticks her thumb in her mouth and looks around with childish wonder in her brown eyes as we move down the hallway toward the room Rowan’s in.
“You’re looking better,” Wendy says in greeting with her eyebrows raised in surprise. I flash her a half-hearted smile before entering the interrogation room. My insides feel like they’re caving in and the aches that were already present before the mission are practically screaming at me at this point. I’ve always been good at faking things into near existence.
Rowan looks up when I enter the room. He’s sitting at the brushed stainless steel table with his hands clasped neatly in front of him but his entire body shifts to face me when I come into view. His face goes blank when our eyes meet as if I’m a ghost. Shock clouds his expression when he registers the tiny person who is getting increasingly difficult to easily balance on my hip. The pain radiating through me in waves is beginning to grow so I make the hand off to him without much hesitation. Our gaze doesn’t drop until Bella is completely in his arms.
He opens his mouth to say something but I’m already out of the room before he can begin. I might just crumble beneath any words he could conjure up right now.
Cecelia must see something in my face when I get out into the hallway because she takes a tentative step towards me.
“Are you alright?” she says softly as she places a gentle hand on my shoulder. I brush her off quickly and move towards the elevator as fast as my gunshot wounds will allow.
I go back to the guest room I’ve been staying in on the common floor. There’s a supply of bandages in the bathroom there which I quickly help myself to. There’s an alarming amount of blood oozing from the holes in my chest when I peel back the older bandages. I disinfect them and bandage them back up nicely. I expected this to happen. The walk from the beach to the motel was embarrassingly enough to overexert myself, let alone carry a two year old around for an hour.
My arms are next. I change the bandages on them just for good measure. The skin is still slightly raw but the burns are finally in the beginning stages of turning pink. My concerns are correct from the looks of it: they’re all going to be some gnarly looking scars once they’re completely healed up. My healing factor doesn’t fix scars like a lot of other enhanced peoples’ do.
I’m dead on my feet once I’m all bandaged up. Max and my doctor weren’t lying when they said I’d have to rest as much as possible for the next couple weeks or so. I haven’t been this tired since before I got shot.
I lay down on my back on the guest room bedspread. The TV is on mostly for background noise but soon it’s too hard to keep my eyes open. There’s a long fight between me and my eyelids, but they win like usual.